Charles II: Too randy to rule

Don Jordan and Michael Walsh reveal how the merrier monarch's obsession with sex cost England a fortune and left it vulnerable to attack

Charles II and his parties

In late summer 1662, King Charles II stood on the roof of his banqueting house looking over his sprawling palace below. Beside him stood his famously voluptuous mistress, the raven-haired Barbara Castlemaine. King and concubine watched a dazzling procession arrive at the palace. It carried Charles’s new queen, Catherine of Braganza. She was moving from Hampton Court, where she and the king had recently honeymooned, to take up residence at Whitehall Palace.

This scene – the king and his mistress watching the queen arrive, in effect, alone – is the quintessence of Charles II’s hedonistic reign. He was besotted by sensuality. During his 25 years on the throne, he spent more time on the pursuit and enjoyment of women than in council meetings. He flaunted his mistresses in front of the nation and Queen Catherine.

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